Atlantic 10 as we know it going out on top

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —

Don’t stand around weeping for the Atlantic-10, kids. You just might end

up getting punched in the mouth.
 
“When I

transferred from South Carolina, I didn’t know how good the Atlantic-10

was,” La Salle guard Ramon Galloway said after his 13th-seeded Explorers

stunned No. 4 seed Kansas State, 63-61, in the second round of the NCAA

Tournament. “Playing in there for two years, it’s a game every day.

You’ve got to fight every day, every second, every

moment.”
 
How good is the A-10? Six games so

far in Bracketville. And, so far, six

victories.
 
The list of postseason victims

includes more ballyhooed representatives from the ACC (North Carolina

State) and the Big 12 (K-State). The league’s two best teams, Saint

Louis and Virginia Commonwealth, were widely tapped as sleeper Final

Four picks — and the Billikens and Rams looked every bit the part in

their NCAA openers, winning by an average margin of 33

points.
 
Hey, no wonder Temple, Butler and

Xavier want to get the hell out.
 
“The other

thing I told them (on Selection Sunday),” Explorers coach John Giannini

recalled, “because they felt bad about losing to Butler, Saint Louis, I

told them, ‘You’re far better prepared for this tournament than you

realize. You just lost to two potential Final Four teams. You’re not

going to play against anyone in this tournament that’s tougher than

Saint Louis or Butler.”
 
La Salle looked

every bit battle-tested Friday, stunning a partisan-purple Wildcat crowd

at Sprint Center by racing to a 24-9 lead, taking an 18-point lead into

halftime, and then surviving a furious K-State comeback in the second

half.
 
The Explorers did it the way the

Wildcats usually do it — with defense. K-State was 0 for 8 from the

floor over the final four minutes of the contest, including a contested,

desperate behind-the-backboard jumper from point guard Angel Rodriguez

along the baseline with two seconds left that effectively sealed the

upset.
 
K-State had just one field goal over

the final 5:16, thanks in part to defensive adjustments on the

ball-screens that had been chewing La Salle up in the second

half.
 
“I was matched up with their ‘4′ man

(Shane Southwell), and he faces the basketball a lot,” Explorers guard

D.J. Peterson explained. “He’s 6-foot-6, I’m 6-5. We knew if we switched

screens, that (it) was going to mess them up. So that’s what we

did.”
 
With that, La Salle officially joined

the “Bracket Busters” club, alongside Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon, Cal,

Harvard and Ole Miss, the Explorers’ surprising dance partner for

Sunday’s third-round matchup in Kansas

City.
 
For a few hours on Friday, La Salle —

in its first NCAA tourney since 1992 and a multi-game winner in the

Dance for the first time since 1955 — sat at the center of the hoops

universe. Guard Tyreek Duren’s smart phone sat beeping in his locker

stall as congratulatory message after congratulatory message rolled

in.
 
“Right now, I’m at 86,” Duren said,

looking down at the phone. “Sometimes, I don’t even get to read most of

the messages. It’s been like that the last week. After the two wins,

after the one we got the other night, and after this game, it’s been

crazy.”
 
Following a victory over Boise

State in a First Four matchup at Dayton on Wednesday, the Explorers got

on a charter flight in southern Ohio at roughly 1 o’ clock Thursday

morning. The entourage landed in Kansas City at roughly 3 a.m. local

time, and started breaking down K-State game film during lunch Thursday

afternoon.
 
“People (watching on) television

might not really realize it, but people who actually played, we realize

it, because it starts taking a toll on your body,” Duren said. “And you

start feeling it in the second

half.”
 
Still, the Explorers managed to

soldier through the fatigue, especially on the defensive end. With their

small lineup and chip-on-the-shoulder mentality, La Salle harkens back a

bit to the Cinderella 2010-11 VCU team that rolled from the first round

all the way to the Final Four.
 
“We don’t

want to be the next anybody, we want to make a name for ourselves,”

Duren allowed. “We want to be La Salle … we want to be that team that

everybody doubted and nobody had hopes for. And we want to show

everybody that we shouldn’t have been playing in the play-in

game.”
 
And, sure enough, one of the last

teams in is one of the last teams still standing. The Explorers’ 23 wins

are the most for the program in a single campaign since the 1989-90

team went 30-2 — a squad that included Wooden Award winner Lionel “The

L-Train” Simmons at forward. Simmons, now 44, sat in a far corner of the

La Salle locker room in a blue Phillies cap Friday, grinning from ear

to ear like a proud uncle.
 
“I’m sweating, I

tell you,” chuckled Simmons, who would later play seven seasons with

the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. “I’m just so happy for these guys, man.

These guys worked hard … these guys have a lot of confidence, a lot of

Philly cockiness in them, which is

good.”
 
“We think we could make a run,”

Peterson continued. “Because the conference we play in all year prepared

us for this moment, right now.”
 
Which, if

you’re an A-10 fan, is the most bittersweet part of an otherwise stellar

first tourney weekend. Butler and Xavier are departing in late June for

the new, basketball-first Big East. Temple, meanwhile, is jumping for

the football-first offshoot of what used to be the Big

East.
 
“It shows the A-10 is a great

conference this year,” Explorers guard Tyorne Garland said, “and I’m

kind of mad they’re breaking it up a little

bit.”
 
And he’s not alone, either. If this

really is the final bow for the A-10 as we know it, it’s not leaving

college basketball’s biggest stage without a few encores

first.
 
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at

seanmkeeler@gmail.com